Color theory and collage color wheels
As the first lesson in our graphic design trajectory, we began with a topic everyone can relate to: Color! Whether we are aware of it or not, color plays a key role in how we process information, how we assign identity to objects and ourselves; colors can even dictate our emotions. We spent a day and a half (four hours) reviewing basic color theory, the color wheel, and making our own color wheels using magazines and collage materials (Alexia even went outside and grabbed some extra-bright leaves to fill in her green section).
For an introduction, I showed some images of the Holi Festival, a celebration in India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka that marks the changing of seasons every Spring. During Holi, people gather in the street and celebrate by people throwing brightly colored powder and colored water at each other. The result is a rainbow of folks in the street and a beautiful landscape that lasts for days. The festival is a lovely example of how color plays a big part in our culture.
White light is made up of ROYGBIV (Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo and Violet), individual wavelengths that each represent a different color. We see all these wavelengths when white light hits a prism (as famously shown in Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon album cover). When separated, any single wavelength will produce a specific color impression to the human eye. What we actually see as color is reflected light from objects, the object absorbs certain waves and reflects others.
A common way to organize color is as a color wheel: an abstract illustrative organization of color hues around a circle, that relationships between primary primary colors, secondary colors, complementary colors, etc. A color wheel may be represented differently, but its orientation remains the same: the primary colors (red, yellow, blue) are at equal points around the circle, and secondary colors bisect their locations (if you drew lines between the primary colors, it would form an equilateral triangle, and if you drew lines between the secondary colors, it would also form an equilateral triangle. The two triangles overlaid form a six-point star). We reviewed a few examples of color wheel illustrations (below).
After understanding the layout of a basic color wheel (including primary, secondary, and tertiary colors), we dove in to explore a few more color theory concepts:
Complementary colors: Two colors which are directly opposite each other
on the color wheel.
As seen in this Gauguin painting, the complementary colors yellow and purple give the painting more contrast. We also identified a few sports teams that use complementary colors: Eastern Carolina University (purple and yellow), Florida Gators (orange and blue).
Complementary colors are “opposites” and can be used within graphic design to create a tonal contrast, or “pop.” We also noted that Christmas colors (red and green) are complementary. Because the colors are directly across each other on the color wheel, one is a primary color and the other is a secondary color (the secondary being made up of the two other primary colors).
Analogous colors: Colors which are adjacent or close to one another on the color wheel.
Glass artist Dale Chihuly used analogous colors in the sculpture above. Other examples of analogous colors are leaves in the fall (yellow, orange, red), or colors found in the ocean (green, blue, aqua).
Temperature: The characteristic of a color which makes it appear either warm or cool in feeling. Red, orange, and yellow are usually considered warm while colors containing blue are thought of as cool.
In the image above, the photographer used the contrast between warm (orange) and cool (blue). These colors also happen to be complementary!
Contrast: Diversity of adjacent parts in color, emotion, or tone. For color, a diversity in tint or shade.
In the image above (left), the contrast is much lower than the image on the right.
Intensity/Saturation: The brightness or dullness of a hue. The strength or purity of a color.
In one of my favorite paintings, Christina’s World, by Andrew Wyeth (shown above), the saturation of color is relatively low.
Hue: The underlying, fundamental color, dictated by its dominant wavelength.
The movie Avatar was designed in an overall blue hue.
Monochromatic: A color scheme which uses one hue and its various values.
The painting to the left, by Pablo Picasso, is monochromatic, using only one blue and its respective lighter and darker values. We discussed how his palette likely had the one shade of blue, white, and black. Even though it is monochromatic, it achieves a depth through the use of different values (see below for definition of value).
Value: The lightness (tint, when you add white) or darkness (shade, when you add black) of a hue. The quantity of light reflected.
Paint swatches are a great example of value, showing one color with various mixtures of white (tints).
After a discussion of these core concepts, we launched into our exercise: use magazine cut-outs to form your own color wheel, blending all the way around between primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. We would use this color wheel for future exercises, and particularly once we get into the design of the Cornhole boards, where we’ll need to justify our color decisions based on the logic of the color wheel. See below for examples of the final wheels, and some great interviews (thanks to Jamesha, our future on-camera news reporter!) of students working and explaining the color wheel. These design fundamentals may seem overly simple, but they really are the building blocks for making intentional design decisions when we get into more complex projects like the chicken coops and farmer’s market.
Video by Jamesha Thompson
Video by Jamesha Thompson